Sayaka Ishiyama — A Thousand Stories


This new post’s theme came out of the blue thanks to Tatsuji Michihiro. Tatsuji is one of my best friends in Japan and also one of the most Otaku guys I have ever met. It turns out he is well connected as he writes illustrated light novels and has recently been making a lot of connections by attending manga-related conferences. He and his girlfriend, a very talented illustrator, introduced me to Sayaka Ishiyama, who just published her book “Thousand Windows, Thousand Doors” recently with the publisher Shodensha.

Sayaka Ishiyama

Sayaka has a thing for danchi. These huge apartment complexes, usually built during the 50s, 60s, and 70s, are spread among many suburban areas in Japan, due to the need for affordable housing back in those days. She has illustrated many stories about them, and I totally agree that this is a fascinating subject of research. These apartment blocks can house hundreds of people, whether it’s families, couples, or individuals. It makes you wonder when you walk through them…

Who lives here? What do they do? Where do they come from?

Sayaka has explored this idea and I am sure will continue to show us the imaginary lives of their residents. We met in Tachikawa along with Tatsuji and walked around the renewed danchi apartment blocks. These, as well as the rest of them, are all managed by the former Japan Housing Corporation (JHC), now known as Urban Renaissance (UR). They have become a sort of urban oasis for creatives of all kinds because residents do not need to pay key money or contract renewal fees, unlike when going through all the other agencies, where fees and deposits can be astronomical. For a little bit of a change compared to my previous posts, I asked Sayaka a few questions while photographing her in the natural habitat of her characters. Sayaka has traveled to only a few countries and she would love to be able to publish her work abroad, so don’t hesitate to reach out to her if you can help spread the word about her work.

Some questions and answers

Have you been reading manga since you were a child?

When I was a little kid, I used to read books like “Ribon”, a comic mainly published for girls, and “Jump”, a comic for young boys. There are other comic books I also got interested in, like Osamu Tezuka’s “Hi No Tori (Phoenix)”, and “Buddha”. I would sometimes read them with my friend at her house or at cram school.

How did you get interested in manga?

I became interested in it when I was learning to read and write. I love reading pieces with images and a great story. My grandmother once gave me a comic called, “Pyon Pyon”. I also used to read my father’s comics which were more for adults (Editor’s note: In Japan, each manga is usually marketed towards either children, then teenagers, and after that adults. This is not to be confused with what we consider in the west as “adult” comics).

Who are your favorite authors and manga books?

It’s very difficult to choose one. If I had to, it would be Fumiko Takano, I was very influenced by her philosophy. I like a lot of her books, but “Beautiful town” (美しき町) is the one that became a reference for my series “Thousand windows, Thousand Words” (サザンウィンドウ・サザンドア). Other authors I have liked since high school are Akira Toriyama (Dragon Ball), Iou Kuroda, Izumi Kawahara and Seiko Erisawa. I have recently gotten interested in Hinako Sugiura and Murasaki Yamada. From outside of Japan, I love Bastien Vives and Adrian Tomine.

What is your best memory from your childhood? Did it influence your work?

A long time ago, I first drew an illustration of my grandfather. He told me he liked it so much. That inspired me to draw. I understand that my art can make people happy and I love it, but I mainly do it for fun.

What are the highlights from high school, did you join any clubs?

I was a member of the art club when I was a junior high school student. After high school, I decided to become an illustrator. I tried to enter an art university to study modern art but I failed my entrance exams. Hence, I went to a technical school specializing in illustration.

When and why did you get interested in drawing? Do you still keep any of your favorite pieces?

Maybe since I was 2 or 3 years old, I don’t remember well, but since I was very young. I loved drawing circles and squares on paper when I was a little kid. When I was growing up, I would try to imitate my favorite manga and games, and I also liked drawing for my friends. Sometimes I would draw people without them knowing or allowing it. Several stages of my life remind me of the good times I had when I was drawing.

Did you have any trouble with your family or did they support you all along?

I visit my hometown as much as I can, at least twice a year. I get along with my family, but they did want me to pursue higher education instead of art.

Tell us about your first job, was it a fun or a hard experience?

After graduating technical school, I started working in an advertising agency for about 5 years. After March 2011, the company went through a rough time so I was made redundant. The 2011 earthquake urged be me to do illustration.

Did this influence your next book?

In 2013, I launched my own manga. The genre is informative. The stories in my manga are inspired by real stories of real teachers. It showcases how the teachers should craft the lessons for the students. I never thought that my comic book would be successful after publishing it in just a year.

Do you have any advice for aspiring manga artists?

Be positive, have fun, do what you like to do, and don’t be stubborn.

Would you like to get your work translated and published abroad?

I am really interested in getting my work published abroad. It would be great if other people could read my work in other languages.

Which is your favorite country and what did you like the most about it? Do you travel locally?

I have been to Saipan, Spain, and France. I like looking at the big advertisements in the subway. I would like to go to the flea markets and museums. I usually travel within Japan. I have been so far to Aomori, Nagoya, Kyoto, Osaka, Kanazawa, Kanagawa, Okinawa…not so many. I particularly love listening to the local dialects in Tohoku and Kansai.

Would you like to say something else?

Just thank you for reading. You can find me on Twitter and Instagram.

Final Notes

You can get the book “Thousand Windows, Thousand Doors” in Amazon, you will recognize the cover from the images above. Her first manga published in physical magazines has just been released in July, “Hibana”.

Sayaka is a talented artist with a brilliant future ahead, and I am sure we will see her career sky-rocketing soon. If you like her work, don’t hesitate to mention her on Twitter or Instagram, and follow her on her social media channels.

Thanks to Sayaka for her kindness and friendly attitude. Also thanks to Mikki for the help with the translation, Seiya, Alvaro, Vincent and the people that, even though they prefer not to be mentioned, made this article possible.

Originally published at State of Tokyo.